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5 Ways Brands Can Bring Customer Engagement Back Home

Billions of dollars are spent each year on marketing the world's largest brands -- but the marketing move toward social networks was a whiplash reaction to the sudden presence of major platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, that quickly demanded attention. As a result, brands have funneled most of their online customer engagement into social networks where they don't own the experience or data -- and have no control over future terms of service.

Now that things have somewhat settled with social media, the industry is facing a pendulum shift in the other direction. There is an opportunity for marketing teams to bring customer engagement back to their own Web site by offering a tailored social experience and ultimately reclaiming the customer relationship.

But what does this look like, and how can brands keep up with the pace of technology developments? Below are five ways you can add a social experience to your Web site to give your online community the fun, dynamic, and immersive experience your customers expect.

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1. Engage users with live Q&A sessions featuring your best talent   

Using live Q&As establishes a two-way conversation between your brand and its community. Rather than just feeding information out to your audience, an interactive Q&A session lets people ask what they want to know. 

While many brands and celebrities turn to Twitter to answer live questions, hosting a Q&A on your own site means you, not a third party platform, own that activity and traffic. But, be sure to maintain the level of experience people get on those other platforms. Using a well-known celebrity or authority figure will significantly boost the reach and buzz surrounding the event.

2. Poll your fan base to find out what they think 

You’ve probably seen a poll on CNN.com or other news site. Maybe you’ve answered a brand’s question on Twitter. Voting and polling is a simple way to add a layer of timely interaction to your site. With just a single click, fans can submit their opinion and get involved with your brand. 

Questions can vary based on your own objectives, from who will win the big game, to who’s your favorite character, to what would be the perfect new feature in an upcoming release. The key is to ask a relevant question and make it really simple for users to participate. You can also offer live results to encourage people to stick around, as well as broadcast throughout your social outlets to generate further participation.

3. Show what’s hot now with real-time trends and buzz 

Real-time trends reflect the pulse of your community, showing which articles, people, topics, or products are the most popular among your visitors at any moment in time. Whether you use graphics, bar charts, or ordered lists (think Twitter Trends), these not only add a real-time dimension to your pages, but also help today’s busy consumer easily discover what’s hot from a source they trust. You’ll instantly gain more eyeballs for your content, as people are drawn in to see what the buzz is all about. 

For example, WWE incorporates real-time trending, with power rankings for its stars.

4. Sprinkle sites with social image galleries 

Chances are, your community is already posting great content about your brand on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The next step is to pull in all that content dispersed across the Web and bring it back to your own site. The goal is to harness the innate power of imagery and videos to encourage users to spend more time interacting with all your content.

Real-time galleries can be built around anything -- including a specific event, brand campaign, product, celebrity, or even a single word. Integrate added social features, such as voting, chat and comments, to take engagement to a new level and encourage social participation around the content. 

5. Keep up with today’s pace by streaming real-time news and conversations 

People expect content to be pushed to them, streaming in a never-ending, at-their-fingertips live feed. Any Web site that is static, or requires its users to refresh the screen to see new content, is going to be frustrating to use and instantly appear antiquated. Real-time feeds and streams can create a fresh, dynamic experience on your Web pages. 

A real-time newsfeed (similar to the news ticker from TV programming) shows the latest news, be it about the company, product, industry, celebrity, sports figure or TV character. Likewise, you can bring a real-time activity feed that aggregates all the discussions about your brand from offsite platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These feeds, like any other social element, should become a core part of the entire digital experience, and not just siloed in a “Community” tab on the Web site.

Bringing it all home

The goal is not to abandon or replace the activity on social networks; after all, platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter give brands an unprecedented opportunity to connect with fans. However, now is the time to bring all this activity back home, to make your site the source for all these conversations, no matter how and where fans choose to interact with your brand. 

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